Cranford High School’s protest denied; Middletown North retains Group III baseball title


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MIDDLETOWN – The 2022 New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Group III state championship will remain in possession of the Middletown North High School baseball team.

The NJSIAA has denied a protest that was submitted by Cranford High School administrators following Middletown North’s 5-4 victory over the Cougars in the Group III state tournament championship game on June 18 in Hamilton Township.

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Cranford’s representatives asserted that Middletown North’s starting pitcher exceeded the single-game limit of 110 pitches during the contest.

NJSIAA Executive Director Colleen Maguire issued a statement on June 20 regarding her decision and said, “I have reviewed Cranford’s appeal and supporting documentation, Middletown North’s response, a report from the tournament director and state rules interpreter, and spoke directly with the game’s official pitch counter. Based on my investigation, I have concluded that the result on the field must stand.

“I do not make this decision lightly. The baseball pitch count rules are designed to protect the health and safety of student athletes. Those rules include procedures to make sure pitch counts are accurate and that both teams have input throughout the game to ensure that accuracy.”

Cranford administrators filed a protest 10 hours after the championship game based on their belief that Middletown North’s Colin Dowlen had exceeded the 110-pitch limit during the top of the seventh inning.

After Lucca Limeira made the second out of the seventh inning, Cranford’s coaches approached the home plate umpire as Dowlen remained in the game. The coaches asserted that by their pitch count, Dowlen had exceeded the pitch limit.

Dowlen remained on the mound and struck out Shea Grady to end the top of the seventh inning.

The Lions did not score in the bottom of the seventh inning and the game went to extra innings tied 4-4.

When Dowlen returned to the mound to pitch the top of the eighth inning, Cranford’s coaches again asserted he should not be allowed to pitch because of the number of pitches he had thrown.

The Cranford coaches were basing their claim on a pitch count that was displayed on the field’s scoreboard.

For a state championship game, the pitch count is kept by a neutral official known as the official adult pitch counter. In this case, the official pitch counter introduced himself to the two coaches and sat behind home plate.

According to the rules, pitch counts must be verified with representatives of both teams after each half-inning.

At one point, the official pitch counter said Dowlen had thrown 100 pitches. Cranford’s coaches challenged that number. The official pitch counter re-added his numbers, found a mistake and said the correct number at that point was 109 pitches.

After additional discussion, the official pitch counter told the umpire Dowlen was facing his final batter and the game resumed. A later review of the game film showed Dowlen had in fact thrown too many pitches at that point.

Dowlen left the mound after retiring one batter in the top of the eighth inning. The Cougars did not score and the Lions won the game and the Group III state championship with a run in the bottom of the eighth inning.

In her ruling, Maguire said she found that Middletown North’s staff followed the rules and checked in with the official pitch counter each inning. She said Cranford’s staff did not do the same and relied on the pitch count displayed on the scoreboard.

Maguire said a memo had been sent to the athletic director of the schools competing in the state tournament championship games, stating, “The pitch count on the scoreboard is unofficial as the operator is in the press box; not seated next to the pitch counter.”

“Instead of checking the pitch count every inning, Cranford’s coaches relied on the scoreboard, which was not official, and waited until they thought the pitch count had been exceeded before raising their concerns.

“Even though the official pitch counter made a mistake, Middletown North had a right to rely on his official count.

“In short, I will not change the result on the field based on a mistake made by an official pitch counter, who was charged with enforcing a health and safety rule, and particularly so where, as here, there was no intent by Middletown North to game the system or gain an advantage,” Maguire said.

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